“Clever”, “Smart” , “Talented” We glow with pride when we hear these words used on our kids and many of us heap our kids with praise in the hope that this will help give them confidence.
A study by published in 2007 by researchers of Stanford University says other wise. Apparently this will lead to your kid believing that their intelligence alone will enable them to succeed in school. This may in turn leads to kids who are vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unmotivated to learn.
Here is the research conducted on 400 fifth-graders.
Each child is given a nonverbal IQ test consisting of a series of puzzles. These puzzles easy enough that all the children would do fairly well. Once the child finished the test, the researchers told each student his score, then gave him a single line of praise. The students were randomly divided into groups. One group were praised for their intelligence. They were told, “You must be smart at this.” The other group were praised for their effort: “You must have worked really hard.”
The students were then given a choice of test :
Choice 1: was a test that would be more difficult than the first, but the researchers told the kids that they’d learn a lot from attempting the puzzles.
Choice 2: The other choice, Dweck’s team explained, was an easy test, just like the first.
Results: Of those praised for their effort, 90 percent chose the harder set of puzzles. Of those praised for their intelligence, a majority chose the easy test.
None of the kids had a choice. The test was difficult, designed for kids two years ahead of their grade level. As predicted, everyone failed. But again, the two groups of children, divided at random at the study’s start, responded differently. Those praised for their effort on the first test assumed they simply hadn’t focused hard enough on this test. “They got very involved, willing to try every solution to the puzzles,” Dweck recalled. “Many of them remarked, unprovoked, ‘This is my favorite test.’ Those who were praise for their intelligence have quite a different respond. They assumed their failure was evidence that they weren’t really smart at all. “Just watching them, you could see the strain. They were sweating and miserable.”
Having artificially induced a round of failure, Dweck’s researchers then gave all the fifth-graders a final round of tests that were engineered to be as easy as the first round. Those who had been praised for their effort significantly improved on their first score—by about 30 percent. Those who’d been told they were smart did worse than they had at the very beginning—by about 20 percent.
Repeating her experiments, Dweck found this effect of praise on performance held true for students of every class. It hit both boys and girls—the very brightest girls especially (they collapsed the most following failure). Even preschoolers weren’t immune to the inverse power of praise.
So what does this really means and what do I do with this information?
Kids who are praise for their ability (i.e. you are smart, you have talent) focus on looking good and avoid challenges so that they will not look stupid if they do not succeed. They are more likely to give up after failure compare to kids who are praise base on their effort.
The way you praise your kid is important. Praise the kids for their effort and not for their intelligence. Says Dweck “Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control,” she explains. “They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure.”
Verdict on this piece of advise
Conducted by a researcher in a reputed university, the experiment is conducted and published in a Psychology journal. Mueller CM and Dweck CS. 1998. Praise for intelligence can undermine children’s motivation and performance. Journal for Personality and Social Psychology 75(1): 33-52
- The Secret to Raising Smart Kids. By Carol S. Dweck Published November, 2007 in Mind & Brain, Scientific American Mind
- How Not to Talk to Your Kids, The inverse power of praise. By Po Bronson Published Feb 12, 2007, New York Magazine
- Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Hardcover) by Carol Dweck